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HENRY GINN, COLONIAL ARCHITECT, COMPANY SECRETARY & PASTORALIST (1818-1892)

This poor entire front with the 2d “Half Length” Queen Victoria stamp has an indeterminate numeral “Butterfly” cancellation, and it is addressed to Henry Ginn Esq, Colonial Architect, Melbourne (Figure 1).

The reverse is in an even worse condition, but at least it identifies the likely site of origin (or possible transit ) with a WILLIAMSTOWN/ [crown]/ JU * 2/ 1852/ VICTORIA postmark. There is a manuscript written vertically at the left hand side stating that the numeral ‘3' for the ‘butterfly” is doubtful (as ‘3' was for Seymour and Maryborough would have been ‘39'). The 2d stamp had been identified as a ‘Ham’ printing (Figure 2).

Henry Ginn was born late in 1818 at Bexhill, Sussex the third of five children of Benjamin Ginn, a clerk of works with the Royal Engineers, and his wife Mary (nee Guy). Henry worked for a London-based builder, gaining experience on housing estates and residential squares. He reached Sydney on the Meanwell on 26 January 1840 and was engaged as architect for the Holy Trinity Church, Millers Point. Subsequently he was appointed clerk of works for the Royal Engineers and in 1841 he was sent back to London to organize labour and materials for several local projects. In private practice from 1843, he won commissions to design the Australian Subscription Library and the Royal Exchange in Sydney, and St. Andrew’s Church, Stockton, as well as a bridge at Bathurst. A drawing of the Australian Subscription Library at the corner of Bridge and Macquarie Streets, Sydney is shown in Figure 3.

On 12 November 1844 he married Jane, daughter of William Grant Balmain and they had seven children. He was encouraged by Mortimer Lewis, the Colonial Architect, to apply for the position of Clerk of works at Port Phillip. When his appointment was approved he cancelled plans to return to England and with his young family he moved to Melbourne on 4 May 1846. He acquired a 26 acre lot at Richmond and designed and erected a Colonial Regency style residence, and subdivided the block into allotments which he sold later at great profit.

He encountered conflict with subordinates, difficulties with a distant administration and intransigent local contractors, but oversaw the erection of major public works, including buildings at Williamstown, Geelong and Portland. In 1847 his brother-in-law James Balmain came to Port Phillip to join Ginn’s office. As secretary to the Royal Botanic Gardens committee, Ginn prepared designs for the layout of the gardens in the Domain, Melbourne. He held positions as auditor, secretary, exhibitor and judge for the Victorian Horticultural Society. In 1851 he was elected president of the short-lived Victorian Association of Architects.

With the separation of Victoria from N.S.W. on 1 July 1851, Ginn was promoted to colonial architect. His department was soon paralysed by the gold rushes--key staff deserted and calls for tenders went unanswered. Ginn opposed the day labour system and advocated his return to London to seek both labour and prefabricated buildings and materials for urgent public works. However, a bitter dispute arose over the merits of his depleted department preparing plans for both the new Legislative Council chambers and Government House. The decision of the Legislative Council to conduct a public architectural competition riled Ginn. He then lost his influence on the Tender Board and fell into open dispute with the administration over the funding of public works in the goldfields districts. On 11 April 1853 he resigned, and responsibility for the Colonial Architect's Office was handed over to Balmain.

Ginn then became a director and secretary of the Melbourne, Mount Alexander & Murray River Railway Co. He declined to stand for election to the Legislative Council. After overseeing the commencement of building of the general central terminus in Spencer Street, Ginn, then managing director, was sent to Britain to raise £1,000,000 in share capital, leaving with Jane and their children on 4 December 1853. In London Ginn received news that the Victorian government had bought out the railway company. Jane died in 1858 and on 23 November 1859, having changed the spelling of his surname, Henry Ghinn married Sophia Hyslop in London. Their only child, a son, was born in 1861 and Sophia died early next year.

Ginn, long held to be a man of plain, manly and straightforward disposition, became general manager of the London and Australian Agency Corporation in the late 1860s and was subsequently posted to Melbourne to investigate the company's affairs, arriving with his children in December 1869. He recommended winding up the company and became the sole liquidator. Later, as a pastoralist, he acquired Ballandry station, in the Riverina, New South Wales. He continued to support charities, including the Indian Famine Relief and the Prince Consort Memorial funds. Predeceased by his eldest and youngest sons, Ghinn died on 23 January 1892 at Risca, Regent Street, Elsternwick, Melbourne. He was buried in St Kilda cemetery, and four daughters and two sons of his first marriage survived him.

This paper relies heavily on the article in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.


 
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